After watching this video about three years ago I had the following conversation with my husband:
Me: Would you please proofread this questionnaire for the canonization of saints?
Tom: Are you thinking about advocating for the canonization of a saint?
Me: Yes, for me at my particular judgment.
Tom: Wow. Okay.
I am not a creative sinner. But the sins I commit, I commit with reckless abandon. Pride? Every single day. Judgmental lack of charity? Certainly, every time I drive.
This used to make me tip toward despair occasionally, but since becoming Catholic nearly 30 years ago, I find the daily examination of conscience and regular Confession to be indispensable to my progress in holiness and ability to say, “no” to demonic attempts to derail that progress.
That does not mean that I can become lazy about either of these things. A daily examination of conscience is indispensable, and the sacraments are non-negotiables. After the initial conversation with Tom about the canonization questionnaire he began interrogating me – he was an attorney for 100 years, after all – about my examination of conscience.
What I told him was that when I first started examining my conscience about 25 years ago, I essentially just used the theological and cardinal virtues to see if I were living by those. Then I started including the ten commandments. At that point I began using Father Peter Carota’s detailed examen at his Traditional Catholic Priest website. It is centered on the ten commandments but uses a set of questions for each commandment that allow for deeper consideration. Fr. Carota died in 2016, and sadly the site has not been maintained. I had downloaded it, though, and printed it so that I could use it more easily.
I used that examination for several years, but then I noticed that I was so familiar with it that I was not entering into it as deeply as I had been. I thought that mixing it up would be helpful, so I looked around for another examination, and found the questionnaire for saints.
At this point my brilliant attorney husband sat down at the computer and opened a spreadsheet program. He began entering each of those different examinations of conscience into the sheet so that each question, statement, and virtue had its own separate line. It became a truly impressive list of potential faults that I need to consider. He did some other magic to it so that it was presented in categories. He has changed it a couple of times so that now the most user-friendly version has each of the different examens on different pages.
I played with it for quite a long time. He left a box at the beginning of each line for me to sort it so the things that most concern me were first. I could leave it in its categories and tackle one category per day, a couple of different questions per day to consider more deeply or focus on the categories.
It has been a helpful support to my examination. For example:
Fortitude: Strong and faithful in the duties of my office; tireless in work; patient in persecution, injury, calumny, and trouble of mind? Have I born all these in a cheerful spirit? Always myself not elated by prosperity or depressed by adversity? Despise the honors, riches, and pleasures of the world? Constantly defend the rights of the church and restrain the immorality of wicked men?
This is a section from the Questionnaire for Sainthood, modified to ask the questions toward myself. I sometimes can think about each of these questions individually for an entire examination or take them as a group to view my day and indeed my life in the context of how I might need to grow in fortitude.
Because I am still on my path in the mortal coil, though, it is still possible, likely in fact, for me to become too familiar with words and their orders and become lazy in my approach to them. So, when I was ready to think about a new examine I remembered that I have heard Father Chad Ripperger talk about the 64 virtues and I recently looked those up. I have now begun using those as a part of my examine, and they are as intense as the spreadsheet has been.
Taking Fortitude as the ongoing example:
Fortitude (the Willingness to engage the arduous)
Magnanimity: the virtue by which one seeks excellence in all things but especially great things
Magnificence: the virtue by which one uses his wealth to do great things
Patience: the ability to suffer evils
Perseverance: the virtue by which one persists in the arduous good until the end is achieved
Longanimity: longness of soul; the ability to await the good
Vice contra Fortitude
Fear: the vice in which one has an unmoderated passion arising from the perception of future evil
Fearlessness: lack of moderated fear
Audacity: excessive aggressiveness toward imminent danger without reasonable fear
Presumption: thinking one can attain some end which is beyond him without aid, usually from God
Ambition: striving for honor above one’s excellence
Inane glory: seeking honor in those things unworthy of honor
Pusillanimity: smallness of soul; the habit of not striving for excellence
Parvificience or stinginess: unwillingness to use one’s wealth to do great things
Mollities or softness (effeminacy): an unwillingness to put aside pleasure in order to engage the arduous
Pertinacity: excessive clinging to one’s assertions or intellectual convictions (Ripperger, 2016)
The detail in these statements is so precise that I can genuinely meditate on one of them for my entire examen. This has been a good addition and I plan to rotate all of these through my examination of conscience to continue to better understand God and His ways.
If any of this sounds as if I’m bragging about my attempts to become holier, please do not think badly of me for it. I am quite a work in progress, and only by trying to completely understand the virtues, the 10 commandments, and the pitfalls to living them fully, can I make any progress at all.